By Paul Nicholson
July 3 – FIFA president Gianni Infantino took a step nearer towards a full criminal investigation in Switzerland into his behaviour following the announcement today by the supervisory authority of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office that an extraordinary federal public prosecutor had been appointed to examine criminal complaints made against him and Swiss federal prosecutor Michael Lauber.
The Swiss judicial supervisory authority in its announcement also noted that it had received another criminal complaint in the case, the fourth so far. All four will be reviewed.
Dr. Stefan Keller, president of the Higher and Administrative Court of the Canton of Obwalden, has been handed the extraordinary federal public prosecutor appointment and will decide whether there are criminal cases to heard. If Keller, who Swiss authorities say has already started his work, decides that there is indication of criminal behaviour, he will request a formal case is opened.
For Lauber the next stage would be for Swiss authorities to lift an immunity to allow that prosecution to go ahead. For Infantino there is no such immunity and the case would be opened immediately.
It is bad news for Infantino and will be a significant test of FIFA’s Ethics function, a body Infantino has regularly argued as being independent and unimpeachable.
In the past when FIFA personnel have had criminal cases referred in Switzerland, the FIFA Ethics department has announced the opening of its own cases into the individuals – usually within two hours of the Swiss judicial announcement.
This was the case with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, vice president Michel Platini and General Secretary Jerome Valcke when investigations by the Swiss judiciary were announced. And in each of these cases within two days FIFA Ethics had announced the suspension of those individuals, pending the outcome of the investigations.
In Infantino’s reworking of FIFA’s Ethics function once he gained power, those times have been rewritten as the ‘bad old days’ of FIFA and its Ethics operations. But in 2016 Infantino removed the independent appointments of FIFA Ethics investigators and its judiciary, replacing them with FIFA appointed officials. The criticism of Infanatino’s new FIFA Ethics has been that impartiality was lost, cases are selectively investigated with politics being too often being the overriding imperative of judiciary decision. The threat of FIFA Ethics has frequently been a blunt instrument used by the executive to bend the national association members to the executive’s will.
Whether FIFA Ethics opens an investigation into its president is another major test of the governing body’s integrity and the impartiality of its judiciary. It is another roadblock in FIFA’s insistence that it has reformed itself and global trust in the world governing body’s governance precedures and the integrity of its leader.
The criminal complaints against Infantino refer to informal and un-minuted meetings he had, in 2016 and 2017, with the Swiss attorney general Lauber, who was in charge of the Swiss investigations into the FIFA corruption scandals that explosively came to light in the US indictments of 2015.
Also under investigation is Infantino’s childhood friend, the first prosecutor of Haut-Valais Rinaldo Arnold, who played an intermediary role during two of the meetings with Lauber.
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